Chapter 12: Cotton Candy
Time stood still, and still this week just flew by.
But no matter how hard I tried to avoid Phoenix, he kept running into me, kept looking at me with those eyes that unlocked something dangerous deep inside of me. There was no way I could give in to it, though.
It just wasn’t an option. I was here for my career, to focus on my life and my achievements. That’s it.
That’s why I turned my attention on something else entirely the past few days: the car.
Jin was an amazing teacher. I learned so much just by watching them work, seeing how they interacted as a team. I was surprised when he first waved me closer, allowing me a glimpse of the star of the paddock, much closer than I thought I’d ever get during this internship.
By Friday I was even allowed to check some things underneath the car itself. It was scary, somehow, but also exhilarating as hell. I knew there wasn’t much I could do, especially given that many settings operated with computers, but I still felt honored as hell to just feel what must be one of the most expensive cars in the world beneath my fingertips.
“Alright, Flo, Practice session is starting in five. You done down there?” Jin’s voice echoed through the garage.
“Yeah, I think so. Wanna check?” I rolled out from underneath the car, taking Jin’s hand and getting back on my feet.
It was Saturday aka Practice-and-Qualifying day, and Jin let me screw on some parts they reconfigured overnight. Objectively, that was one of the more boring parts of the job.
Practically, my heart still hammered in my chest, and a potent mixture of fear and adrenaline coursed through my veins. These guys drove 200 km/h in a corner — any loose part on the car would risk system failure, having to suspend the car, or worse, a crash.
And so I was glad when Jin got beneath the car as well, tested the screws, and checked on the rest while he was down there. “Yeah, looks good. Great job.”
I returned the favor by stretching out my hand, helping him back up until he stood right next to me. A smile played on his lips as he nudged my shoulder and handed me the electric drill, almost like he was giving me a trophy of some sort. “So, how does it feel?”
“Amazing,” I retorted and ran a hand through my hair, only that it got stuck at the end of it. My fingers came out darker than before, and I realized that yet again, I must’ve gotten some oil in there. “If it weren’t for my hair, that is…” I muttered, handing the electric drill back to Jin so I could tie my hair up into a bun.
“Ah, the pain of beauty.”
I furrowed my brows at his remark, studying myself in the shiny blue wall of drawers. My hair was all over the place, dark streaks of oil covering my face while some strands formed into clumps from being entangled in the roller board.
Jin leaned over, blocking me from my view as he said, “Come on, Flo. Didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yeah, I know.” I smiled, taking the electric drill back from his hands. I knew he didn’t mean it like that — in fact, I was very certain Jin was the only one not judging me for my gender or looks while I was here.
I wasn’t dumb. I didn’t miss the way some employees looked at me — none of them disrespectfully, though. They weren’t stupid enough to make it seem like they wanted to get me in bed. Instead, their glance held curiosity and intrigue, like they were wondering what exactly I was doing here.
Bet they wouldn’t have done that if I had a dick…
“Thanks for the hard work, Florence.” Felipe appeared in my sight, shooting me a cheeky grin as he pulled his helmet over his head. He liked to flirt, but I also knew his boyfriend found that rather amusing than anything else.
“Sure thing.” I laughed. “Have fun out there.”
“Oh, I will. Hoping for some rain.”
Felipe was the sort of driver who loved to race in the rain. It was hard keeping the car on the asphalt when it poured, but some drivers had more talent than others in that aspect. He was one of them.
Sliding into his Mona Lisa, as he called his vehicle, Felipe drove out of the garage. He just got into the pit lane when my dad’s car appeared behind him, his head instantly whipping in my direction.
I couldn’t see him with his visor down, but I could only imagine how hard he was grinning when he waved at me like the proud dad he was.
Shaking my head, I waved back at him, not missing the countless curious glances thrown my way.
Dad never tried to jeopardize my career — in fact, he supported me fully with every step I took. I would’ve started this journey much sooner if it went his way — That would’ve meant using his name to get my experience, though, which was the opposite of what I’d wanted to do.
He respected that, but I also knew he was super excited about having me on board now, even if we didn’t see each other as often as I’d hoped. The internship needed a lot of attention, and I barely found time to call Amara with everything going on lately. She didn’t even know about the mimosa incident yet.
Boy, that one would be fun to tell…
“Oh no…” Jin muttered with a roll of his eyes.
I turned to look at him. “What’s going on?”
His gaze fell at the garage back entrance, brows furrowed and a sigh leaving his throat. I followed his glance, scrunching my nose at the sudden smell of cotton candy in the room until I spotted a blond guy standing in the doorway, puffing out a cloud of smoke.
The mere sight had me baffled — what the fuck did this guy think he was doing?
“Dude,” I called out to him, “what the fuck are you doing? This is a workplace!”
He looked up at me, his boyish features twitching with joy as he ran his eyes over me. “I know. I work here.”
“You what now?”
Glancing over at Jin, I hoped for some sort of explanation, but he already turned around while muttering, “Goddamn child…”
“I. Work. Here.” He rolled his eyes at me, taking another drag of his e-cigarette. “Is that so hard to understand?” I could barely comprehend his words as he spoke them while puffing out another awfully sweet-smelling cloud of smoke.
“All I see you doing is acting like a child while the grownups are working,” I quipped back, crossing my arms in front of my chest.
“Oh!” His laugh echoed through the garage while he pointed his smoking device at me, wide eyes showing some sort of realization. “You must be Florence Nyx!”
I didn’t know what it was, but something about this guy’s attitude made me want to punch him straight in the face. Still, I somehow managed to walk up to him, wiping my hand on my overall before I stretched it out to him. “That would be me. Hello.”
He seemed surprised but shook my hand, a grin plastered on his lips as he pointed at my head. “You got something in your hair. Ew…”
Furrowing my brows at him, I leaned over, inspecting his face more thoroughly. His blue eyes sparkled as if he was expecting something else from the action, but I quickly pointed at his cheek, responding, “And you got something on your face.”
“What?” He untangled our hands and wiped his own over his face, studying his palm with narrowed eyes. “What is it?”
“I don’t know… Looks like baby food. Might be time to eat something solid soon, huh?”
A row of laughter echoed through the garage, and the guy didn’t seem like he had anything else to say to that as he shook his head. “Do you even know who I am?”
“No,” I replied, “It’s not like you made an effort to introduce yourself to me, right?”
“Well, it’s also not… like… not like you can do whatever you want because you are who you are.” He must’ve been very proud of his observation; the smile on his lips only broadened as he took another drag of his e-cigarette.
“For fuck’s sake… I did what I did because you’re smoking in a clean environment, you goddamn—”
“Flo,” Michael’s voice stopped me from saying something I probably would’ve regretted in the long run, his tall frame now appearing right in front of me. “Why don’t you go take a break, you’ve worked a lot today. Just be back here for Qualifying, alright?”
“But I didn’t even—”
“Flo.” Michael raised an eyebrow at me, his gaze stern and determined. I knew there was no use fighting with him. He was a stubborn German bastard for sure. There was also the little fact that my career was directly linked to his opinion of me, so I really had to get a grip.
The only one defining your worth is yourself.
“Got it. I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Wait, so he smoked? In the garage?”
“Yes!” I yelled at my phone, running a hand through my wet and now oil-free hair. “Just fucking took drag after drag of this ugly ass e-cigarette! Who does that?!”
Amara laughed, her head thrown back in laughter before she glanced back at me through the screen. “Wow. That’s almost as shocking as you letting some hot guy save your ass when you’re blackout drunk.”
“Fuck you,” I grumbled, pulling my hair into a messy bun while glancing at my screen.
“Wait, are you blushing?” She gasped. “Flo! Show me the mirror! Are you blushing?”
“Oh my god, Amara…” I knocked over my phone, letting it rest face down on the dressing table I was sitting at. “If you don’t stop being a mean bitch I won’t keep looking at you.”
“Come on! I didn’t mean it that way. You’re the bitch for not telling me about this sooner.”
Rolling my eyes, I finished my bun and picked up the phone again, seeing Amara’s demanding eyes staring straight at me.
“Well, I knew you’d make a bigger thing out of it than it is. Just like with Viola.”
“I merely said you went on a date with her. Which you did, for the record.”
“We had dinner. Once. It wasn’t a big thing.”
“But it was a date,” she pressed again. “Wasn’t it?”
God. I loved my best friend, but she was really frustrating today. “Amara, just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean I want to date every woman I meet…”
A sigh fled her lips, and her eyes suddenly turned apologetic as she muttered, “Sorry. You know I don’t mean it that way. I just… Man, life is boring here! I can’t wait to get out to college. Your life has to be so much more exciting now that you’re out in the world.”
I grabbed my headphones and plugged them into the phone, catching the rest of my belongings before I closed the door behind me. “I know you think that, but really, not that much happens here. I mean, nothing that would interest you, at least.”
“Oh, believe me, I’m at the point where I want to clean the whole house just to do anything BUT listen to Mrs. Gumbeyers news about her grandson starting to walk now…”
I laughed at the memory of her neighbor, a ninety-three-year-old woman whose greatest pride and joy is the large family she created. “Well, I could tell you about what I learned about the car today. It’s actually rather interesting…”
“Well, go ahead!” I knew she was feigning her interest in the subject, but I was also excited to share all of it with her. She was my best friend, after all. The person I wanted to talk to when things went incredibly wrong, but also when they went just right.
And so I filled her in as I made my way back to the garage, obviously leaving out confidential information. We weren’t exactly poor, but I didn’t need a million-dollar-lawsuit on my hands for spilling the team-internal guts.
“Okay, wow, and they actually let you work on the car now?”
“Well, yeah. A little, at least. I’m still baffled though — it’s really like working magic…” A grin spread across my lips as I reached the security check. I waved my card in front of the reader and walked inside, not missing the quizzical glance the guard shot my way. “Ames… I gotta go.” I shot the man a stern glance before focusing on my best friend on the screen. “Thanks for listening to me. We will talk later tonight, okay? And don’t bore yourself to death, please.”
“Ha-ha. That’s almost impossible.”
“Just almost, though. You know I still need you.” I quipped.
Her laugh rang in my ears as she waved at the screen. “I do. Now go, we’ll talk. Love you!”
“Love you too. Take care.” I hung up the phone and let it disappear in my pocket, but I barely had the headphones off my ear when someone grabbed my arm, steering me to the right.
“Connor?” My eyes widened when he pulled me to the side, right next to the paddock entrance. “What is it?”
He glanced around the area, obviously looking for someone before he spun back around to meet my gaze. His red hair was all over the place when he ran a jittery hand through it. “Listen. I know we don’t always see eye-to-eye…” Well, that was an understatement. “But you should really not go into the garage right now.”
“Why?” I bent over to look inside the paddock area, not that that would give me any context clues about what exactly is going on.
“Because Phoenix is very close to losing his shit, apparently. Salim got all worked up and sent me out here to keep you outside.”
My heart stopped at that revelation. That didn’t make any sense at all. I knew Phoenix and I had butted heads a few times, but things have gotten rather calm since that particular night, and I thought we were ready to bury the hatchet by now. “What? Why?”
“Well…” It was Connor’s turn to glance into the paddock area now. “Do you remember the guy you saw this morning?”
“The vaping idiot?” My brows furrowed at the memory. Who on earth would smoke cotton candy?
“Yeah, that one. Well… That guy…” He looked through the entrance one last time before checking our surroundings, almost as if he was afraid of saying his next words out loud. “That guy was Liam Drexler.”
Thank you so much for your patience. I passed my first exam (yay!) and now it's just up to the next one in a week. I'll have more time to write after that, which I'm so looking forward to. I love writing these characters so I can't wait to get into it!
Stay safe and focus on the good things in life, okay? Life is good. Even if it seems like it isn't.